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Echoing Trump, ex-Johnson County commissioner forces primary for KS secretary of state

·4 min read
Facebook/Mike Brown

Former Johnson County Commissioner Mike Brown, known for inflammatory social media posts and bucking COVID-19 precautions, announced Tuesday he is running for Kansas secretary of state.

In a news release, Brown took aim at incumbent Secretary of State Scott Schwab, saying he has not done enough to combat voter fraud and ensure election security in Kansas.

“On November 3rd, 2020, and November 2nd, 2021 — shortly after the polls closed — my phone blew up with emails, text messages, voicemails, phone calls and social media messages over concerns of the integrity and security of our elections,” Brown said in a statement. “After multiple attempts to find answers that would address these concerns and return confidence in the integrity and security of our elections, I left with even more concerns as it became clear ensuring election integrity and security has not been a priority for Secretary of State Scott Schwab.”

In a news release announcing his candidacy, Brown echoed unfounded claims of voter fraud made by former President Donald Trump after the 2020 election.

Brown lost his 2020 reelection bid to the county commission, but did not challenge the results at the time.

Last month he posted to Facebook that 82% of Johnson County residents he surveyed lacked faith in the Kansas election process. It’s unclear whom Brown surveyed and what methods he used. His news release Tuesday attacked Schwab for his assertions that Kansas’ elections have been free of issues with voter fraud and that mail voting is safe.

Brown’s entrance to the race complicates matters for Schwab. The former lawmaker succeeded Kris Kobach — who made a name for himself speaking frequently about the threat of voter fraud in Kansas but ultimately only prosecuted a handful of individuals for voting-related offenses.

Since his 2018 election, Schwab has been largely non-controversial in the state’s top election office. Following claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election, he assured lawmakers that Kansas had held free and fair elections but did not push back on legislative efforts to assert more control over elections in 2021.

In an email, Lydia Meiss, a spokeswoman for Schwab, said he had a long history of fighting for election security — including his work on voter ID legislation in the House.

“While others would rather play partisan politics with our elections, Scott is working hard to defend your right to vote securely and safely. To Scott, this is not about politics — it’s about protecting your vote and your rights. It’s about doing things the Kansas way,” Meiss said.

In an email to supporters last week, Schwab made his case on election security, citing his opposition to federal voting rights legislation and previewing his office’s plans to propose legislation making it illegal to connect an election machine to a digital network.

On Monday, Schwab announced he was launching an online form where Kansans could report voter fraud.

“Although I am confident in our election laws we must remain vigilant to keep Kansas elections safe, secure and trusted,” Schwab wrote.

Brown’s entrance to the race, however, is likely to force Schwab to more vigorously defend his assertions that Kansas’ elections are already secure while appealing to voters who buy into false claims that they were not.

Brown drew consistent criticism during his time on the Johnson County board. Ahead of the 2020 election, Brown told constituents on Facebook to buy firearms in preparation for a “coming war.” He used the hashtags “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” as he described violence, “burning churches,” “looting stores” and a chaotic end to law and order. He accused Gov. Laura Kelly and other Democrats of staying “silent” during summer 2020 protests for racial justice.

He also came under fire for controversial positions on the pandemic — including posting on Facebook early in the pandemic that COVID-19 is a “political stunt.”

Patrick Miller, a political scientist at the University of Kansas, said Brown may appeal to many Republican primary voters by focusing on election security and conspiracies of widespread fraud.

“It’s a symbolically powerful issue,” Miller said. “Even though we do not have this problem … there is this belief amongst some people that we do and it is everywhere.”

Primary voters, Miller said, are more likely to believe voter fraud is a problem, meaning Schwab will need to both assure them it’s not while taking credit for the security of Kansas elections.

“He ignores it at his own peril,” Miller said.

Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, a Galena Republican who pushed for changes to state election law this year, said he and other Kansans remained convinced that Kansas elections were not secure despite Schwab’s assertions. No evidence exists of widespread voter fraud.

Senate Majority Leader Larry Alley, a Winfield Republican who this year pushed for changes to election law, said he trusted Schwab that Kansas elections were safe and didn’t want to give Kansans a reason to doubt that.

“Let’s keep our election secure and go forward with it and not go backward and try to put some fear into it,” Alley said.

The Star’s Sarah Ritter contributed to this story.

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